Let me give you the six principles that I’ve learned personally and I hope they’ll be helpful for you. Principle number one from verses 1 through 8. God is working in places and among people we assume He doesn’t.
If you would have asked Peter, “Do you think God is speaking to some of those Roman soldiers that are oppressing your people?” Peter would have said, “No way.” Practice. Assume God is speaking to everyone everywhere and wants to use you.
When God was breaking my prejudice in my time in Santa Cruz, I mean, it is a different place. Let’s just be very honest about this. And there’s a guy on the front row and he had very, very long dreadlocks down to about here. He hadn’t had a bath in either many weeks or many months, I could smell him almost from here.
He had a poncho, multi-colored poncho, a multi-colored turban hat. Various markings. And he looked scary. And he’s on the front row. And I’m preaching. And I’m thinking, and I mean, this guy, he’s not, like, passive. He’s going…
And I’m thinking, “I wonder what’s going on here.” And, just, every time I made eye contact it was, “Whew.”
And so, you know, I get done with the message and I’m just, you know, thinking I wonder, wonder, you know? It’s not like I have a conscious prejudice it’s just like, who is the weird guy on the front row, okay?
And so I get done and as soon as I get done I come down and talk to people. And this guy beats everybody there like this. And I go, “Oh my gosh, where is security?”
And he puts his arms around me. And he hugs me and he goes, “Oh, that word from God so fed my soul. I’m so happy to be here!”
And as I’m smelling him and going, “Whew.” Later Dan and I became good friends. I learned Dan was purposefully on the street, didn’t have to be there. Later I learned to call him Dan Dan Hippie Man.
I started doing some personal Bible study with Dan and Dan had a ministry to street people and then he said, “I want to walk across the country.” And he did. And he got to Utah and people were asking him questions he couldn’t answer and we emailed a little bit back and forth.
He said, “You know, I think I need some Bible training.” So he came back, went to Bible school. Kept dressing the same way, living on the streets the same way, found a girl out there that had the same vision, they got married and became missionaries.
Don’t you dare believe that some of the weirdest people that are different from you that God isn’t working. Assume He’s working in everyone everywhere all the time and He wants to use you.
Principle number two: prayer is the prerequisite to seeing others differently than our cultural bias, out of verses 9 through 16. Good Jews prayed in the morning and then prayed at night. There was a three hour prayer meeting as well. But Peter was just hungry. And he decided, “I’m going to go on the roof.” And he’s talking with God.
Unless your mind gets renewed, and unless you’re talking with God and being open and honest, He can’t reveal things to you. So you stay stuck in your little box of your group and your background. You have yours, I have mine, everyone has theirs.
Prayer is the prerequisite to seeing others different than our cultural bias. Because Peter met with God, he could hear God. And God prepared him. All that stuff about the sheep and the animals. He goes, “Oh, I get it.” Don’t call anything unclean that God calls pure.
And so here’s the practice. Ask God to let you see others the way He does.
I’ll never forget, “Lord would you help me see that guy in the John Deere hat that, when I walk into the Wagon Wheel, the one restaurant at the time in rural Texas, with the country music blaring and this guy whispering about this loud, ‘Hey! There’s that new preacher boy that’s over there at Country Bible Church!’”
That made me go, “Mm, I can’t believe what … !” And I began to pray, “God, would you help me see him the way you see him?” Trying hard to see him that way doesn’t work, so what I found is Romans 12:2 says, “Don’t be conformed to this world but be transformed.” How? By trying hard, working hard?
What’s it say? “Don’t be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Why? “So that you can prove or test or experience what God’s will is. The good, acceptable will of God.”
And so on this card, it’s very, very old. I wrote it many, many years ago and reviewed it probably hundreds or thousands of times. And I just wrote, “Accepting others, removing prejudice. I’d like to view others in light of their eternity and need, instead of by their outward appearance, possessions, status, or abilities.”
And then I wrote I Samuel 16:7, “God sees not as man sees. For man looks on the outward appearance but God weighs the heart.”
I want to look people through the lens of eternity. Are they heaven bound or hell bound? I want to look through the lens of the need. You know what? That guy with the John Deere hat or the two lesbians in the corner? They have need. They have insecurities. They have struggles. They’ve been through pain.
How would Jesus look at them? What would He want? You don’t have to agree with people’s politics, their religion, their sexual orientation. You don’t have to agree. But you can love them. It’s what Jesus did. It’s why He got in so much trouble. The early church got in a lot of trouble. We’re not getting in enough trouble. We need to start loving people very different than us.
And so, I just begin to read that card over, and over, and asking God, just, I can’t do that. Certain prejudices are ingrained in my mind for years.
So I ask. And God will answer that prayer.
Three, walls of prejudice often come down a few bricks at a time, from verses 17 to 23. Peter didn’t go from this diehard, prejudiced, Jew with Gentiles. You know? First of all, it was like, you know, “I’m kind of far away from the home base here in Jerusalem. I’ll just stay with this tanner. I mean, he’s ceremonially unclean but, you know, it’s a little baby step.”
And then pretty soon, when Cornelius’ guys come, he let them in the house. Then he traveled with them. He did a lot of baby steps that were absolutely forbidden.
When he went inside that Gentile house, it was like, “Uh-oh baby, there’s no turning back. I have just violated everything that I have been taught all my life. I’m in the house of a dog. But you know what? That’s my opinion. That is my prejudice.
No, I’m in the house of a God-fearing man that the Spirit of God is wooing, and drawing, and actually sent an angel, and God cares about him, so I need to care about him, and I need to put away my stuff and my prejudice, and my background, and what anybody else thinks, and I need to love him and share the love of Christ.”
And he did. And you’re here today because he did, fellow Gentile.
And so here’s the practice. The practice is take small steps this week to connect with someone much different than you. Let’s start taking some bricks off the wall, okay?
So, for me? It was like, I decided, because that guy irritated me so much, I walked in and I said, “Could I sit down?” You know, there’s like four or five guys drinking coffee every morning, John Deere hats, the whole…
And I, so, “Could I sit down?” And he looked at me like, “You, preacher boy?” That’s what they called me. I did not like that.
And I said, “Hey, tell me a little bit about where you get those hats? “Well…” “So, do you have a ranch or something?” “Well, yeah. We come…”
I just started asking questions. I mean, I thought John Deere was a lawnmower. Okay, I’m from the city. I don’t know anything. And I remember, in Santa Cruz when I would find situations that were just so appalling to me and I finally just thought, you know, they’re protesting our church and we’re bashing them, and so I called the mayor and said, “Would you like to have lunch?” This is the mayor of Santa Cruz.
He graduated from Berkeley, and he thinks they’re too far right. Super ultra, ultra out there guy. And we had a two-hour lunch. And he came thinking, “Okay, I’m going to meet with this Bible-thumping, anti-intellectual bigot,” because that’s what they think all Christians are.
And I think, here I am, this super guy who thinks alternative duh, duh, duh, duh.
And we had a two-hour lunch and here’s what I gotta tell you, two things. Number one, I liked him. Two, I respected him. When I listened carefully to his intellectual presuppositions about how he viewed the world, what he did made sense. At least he was consistent with his vision and values and doing something.
What we both agreed on was we wanted to help the poor. And so I left that with, our church is going to help the poor, and he would help us help the poor, and we both kind of went away smiling going, “You know what? We totally disagree on almost everything with regard to a worldview but I think I just met a Christian that is not stupid, anti-intellectual, bigoted, Bible-thumping, jerk. You seem like a real person.” And I came away the same way.
And we began to see God open some doors, why? Now, I’d like to tell you that in the middle of lunch he bowed, prayed the prayer, is in the kingdom. But I took a few bricks off. And I didn’t let, in circles anymore, I didn’t let people talk about him the same way. “Hey, I know that guy. Now, I disagree with him but he’s really a nice guy. And he’s really trying to do some good.”
And so you take steps, you take baby steps.
Four, obedience to God often alienates us from our group and is the price tag to take the good news across cultures. It’s verses 23 to 33. Peter violated hundreds of years of tradition and he gets flack for it. If you do what God wants you to do, some fellow Christians are going to say, “Why are you hanging out with them?”
You’re going to make Christians feel uncomfortable.
Here’s the practice: choose to please God, not men.
It just takes one person like you at your work, at your neighborhood, at your health club to break a barrier. And when you do, God opens doors. But you’re going to have to please God, not please people. So choose to please God.
Practice number five is the good news of the gospel is for all people of all backgrounds in all places. That’s Peter’s sermon, verses 34 to 43. Peter said, “Wait. When we preach the gospel, Pentecost occurred and He included the Jews. I didn’t even get done with my message, the exact same thing happened to the Gentiles.”
And Peter got new eyes. All of a sudden, all those Old Testament passages that he was skipping over about the nations, and the blessings through Abraham, and what God wanted to do for all people of all time – all of a sudden they started to pop.
See, you read your Bible, and I read my Bible, through a lens. Try this: read your Bible for thirty days and just start looking for the poor, the poor, the poor, the poor, the poor, the poor. And see what the Bible says about the poor versus how you think about the poor.
Read the Psalms. Read the Proverbs and just look for the word “poor.” And you’ll realize, “Whoa. God really is, He doesn’t think they’re all bums. He doesn’t think they all just, if they worked harder.” Is that true in some cases? For sure. But that’s not what the Scripture says.
The practice here: share the difference Jesus had made in your life with someone this week. Okay? I mean, we have to get out of, “I’m trying to be a good person, and I come to church, and I’m trying to do what God wants me to do.”
Jesus is the answer to the world’s needs and when we share what Jesus has done, and you don’t have to share all the four laws, you don’t have to become a flaming evangelist with a Bible this big in front of your desk or your cubicle or put up stickers everywhere.
What you need to do is incarnate the life of Jesus and begin, in normal ways, where just in the passing in a conversation and it’s a, even maybe even a work situation and you know, we’re so afraid of offending people. Get more afraid of them never hearing.
And do it winsomely. You know, the little statements like, “Oh, wow, I can’t imagine what you’re going through. You know, I went through a divorce. Apart from Jesus, I don’t know how I’d be here today.” “Your son is in ICU, would you mind if I prayed to the Lord Jesus?” Let’s get out of just this God, it means anything in our day.
“Can I pray for you?” Yeah, God, you know it can be anybody. Share Jesus. And just share it in normal kind of ways. Break through the barriers.
And do it with someone different.
Who in your world is different from you that this week, this week, take a baby step. Pull a brick down.
Finally, number six. God refuses to allow Himself, or His ways, to be put in a box. Verses 44 through 46.
Acts chapter 10 is not a blueprint for the spiritual life. It’s historical. It’s a historical picture of how God includes people. It’s the picture of how this revolution of Jesus changed the world.
So, in Acts 2, they speak in tongues because it’s an external view of the Spirit has come upon the Jews. In Acts 8, it doesn’t say tongues but there’s an outward manifestation. There probably is. The Samaritans get in.
But notice that it happens at the time here. It happens later here. Now the Gentiles, it happens simultaneously. This isn’t a picture or a teaching about some second blessing.
This is a picture of Acts 2, 8, 10, and later in 19 we have a group that were traveling somewhere and they had not even heard of the Holy Spirit.
There is no formula in the book of Acts. How people, and when they believe, and sometimes they’re baptized before, sometimes they’re baptized afterwards.
Here’s what we do. We unconsciously assume, inside Christendom, that the way God works with us is how He’s going to work with everyone. Can I give you some real prejudice in the church?
We got one group over here and we, you know why? Because it’s how you were trained. It’s God’s Word. It’s principles. We don’t want to get too emotional. Those people that raise their hands and dance around, they make me nervous.
And then that one guy said he had a vision from God, or he had this prompting from God, and you know what? There’s principles. We don’t want that experiential emotionalism. We’re going to be men and women of the Word. And then you have the superior than that to that group.
And this group is over here going, “Hello, I love you, Lord. I love you, Lord. I had a vision last night. These people don’t get the Spirit. They’re just the frozen chosen. Oh, they just work principles, they’re just trying to work it out. They don’t get, they…”
And there’s prejudice. You need to love people that are different. Could it be that the Spirit of God wants to take the Word of God, with a group of people outside boxes and boundaries? Inside clear Scripture, and say, “Let’s change the world instead of judge one another.”
Why do we have all these denominations? Because, basically, the arrogance and pride, our way is better, everyone else is out to lunch.
Here is the practice: refuse to assume that God will work in others the same way He’s worked in you.
Could I just ask you to please go on a journey and answer these questions? The first question is pretty easy. I think you can answer why we’re all prejudiced. I’d like you to think about how prejudice has really negatively affected other people. You know, sometimes when you look at it out there, it kind of helps you realize how diabolical it is.
And then, third, which of these six principles, which one as I was going through it there was a little, sort of a loving dagger that said, “Ooh, you need to listen to this.” Put a star by that one.
And then, who or what group of people do you find yourself judging?
Just as I kind of threw stuff around. Is it an ethnic issue? Is it a wealth issue? Is it a background issue? Is it people from different parts of the world issue? Is it a work issue? Is it an envy…? I don’t know. I’ve got it. You’ve got it.
Then what if you, number five, could let the walls down. What if you started praying for a specific person? Tried to understand them. Ask a question. Shared a meal. Maybe, if appropriate, ask them to forgive you.
And, finally, I want to close with this. Can you imagine? Can you imagine what God would do, and what would happen, if an inter-generational, that means young people admire old people instead of, “They don’t know anything.”
And old people would look at young people instead of, “And they’re always too loud and trying to do this,” and would mentor them instead. Inter-generational, inter-racial, inter-gender, inter-political. Where Jesus would be the center and we would so move beyond our prejudice and love each other here. What would God do?
What would God do?
It’s not some big thing that some important person… an enlisted soldier, and a blue-collar fisherman changed the world. You are the answer to breaking down the walls in someone’s life.